Title page with dedication
List of chapter titles
The following brief outline of the events, domestic and public, of the Last Fifty Years, may at least claim the credit of perfect accuracy, having been revised by the best authority
Dec. 11, 1886
|VI||The First Afghan War|
|VII||The Irish Famine|
|IX||The Highland Home|
|X||The Great Exhibition|
|XI||The Crimean War|
|XII||The Indian Mutiny|
|XIII||The First Wedding|
|XVI||The Abyssinian War|
|XVII||The Franco-German War|
|XIX||Death of Pricess Alice|
A FEW years ago there was a picture in the Royal Academy which was looked at with much attention and delight. It represented a young girl, small, slight, and slender, but full of dignity, blue-eyed, and with clear-cut features, standing with loose hair and slippered feet, to receive the homage of three elderly men, regarding her with a mixture of reverence and tenderness. It was well known to represent Queen Victoria when called up at five o'clock on the morning of the 20th of June 1837 to hear that she was Sovereign of the British dominions, when only five weeks past her eighteenth birthday.
The little May-flower, as her German relations were fond of calling her, had been born on the 24th of May 1819. Her father was Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III.
With the very best intentions, good King George had been far from successful in the education of his sons. There had been over-severity at first, and afterwards a lack of occupation. The state of the Continent likewise prevented foreign princesses from being available matches for them till they were advancing in life ; and the want of home and family had been very injurious to these young men. The second pair of brothers, William and Edward, as sailor and soldier, had more wholesome occupation than their elders, and never threw themselves into opposition to their father. The miserable marriage of their eldest brother had produced only one daughter, Princess Charlotte ; the second brother had no children, and on the untimely death of Princess Charlotte, marriage was urged on the two younger princes, and their weddings took place on the same day. The Duke of Kent married Victoria, the sister of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, and widow of the Prince of Leiningen. One little girl, the Princess Feodora of Leiningen, was hers already, and was a beloved half-sister to the "little May-flower."
The names borne by the young Princess of Kent were Alexandrina Victoria, the first being given in gratitude for some act of kindness to the Duke of Kent from the Czar Alexander of Russia. The child was only eight months old when she was left fatherless, but she was bred up with the utmost care by her mother, under the advice of Prince Leopold, brother to the Duchess, and the widowed husband of Princess Charlotte.
An establishment was formed for the Duchess at Kensington Palace, with Claremont for a country house. Here we occasionally hear notices of the little Princess. At two years old she was seen on the floor by her mother's side by the great and good William Wilberforce, who played with her, and mentioned her as "a fine animated child;" and a little later she was running about in the gardens, with her little watering-pot, administering the water as much to her own feet as to the flowers.
Her mother devoted herself to the training of the child destined to so important a station. Hers was a very different education from that of the former heiress, who had been a ball of contention between her father, mother, and grandfather, and had in the meantime been allowed to run wild by her good-natured governess, till her own noble nature asserted itself in the hands of her husband. The young Victoria, on the contrary, was anxiously guarded. Her State-governess was the Duchess of Northumberland, but she was constantly with either her mother or her actual governess, Baroness Lehzen, and in her fifth year the Reverend George Davys (afterwards Dean of Chester and Bishop of Peterborough) became her instructor, actually teaching her letters. For an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon from that time forward he was with her. He gave her instruction in her religious faith, in history, Latin, and, as time went on, in whatever he thought might be needful to her ; and he was often astonished at her great intelligence, and the strong memory which enabled her to imbibe so much, as well as to reflect upon what she learnt.
Her great characteristics in her childhood, as through life, were her conscientious truthfulness, warmth of heart, and sense of duty. And these were cherished by her mother, who watched over her unweariedly, and was especially desirous that no gossip should prematurely reveal to her the position in which she stood.
It was when she was about twelve years old, after George IV. was dead and William IV. was on the throne, that arrangements were being publicly made for a Regency in the event of the King's dying while she was in her minority. It was then agreed between mother, tutor, and governess that it was time that she should be aware of what awaited her ; and Dr Davys therefore set her to draw out the genealogical tree of English royalty. Presently she said earnestly, "Mamma, I cannot see who is to come after uncle William, unless it is myself."
She was told that so it was. "It is a very solemn thing," she said. "Many a child would boast, but they don't know the difficulty. There is splendour, but there is responsibility." Then lifting up her forefinger, and giving her hand to her governess, she earnestly said, "I will be good."
" And she has kept her promise
Through all her length of life ;
And all her subjects bless her
Good mother, Queen, and wife."
She added that she now saw why she had been made to learn Latin, when it had not been required of her cousin Augusta.
It is plain that from that time she must have thought much and independently of the future, and there was a great deal to bring it before her. Her mother used yearly to take her on journeys, so as to visit remarkable places in England, and the people thronged to behold the maiden who was to be their future Sovereign. On the other hand, this attention excited the jealousy of the King. William IV. had entered the Navy at a time when coarseness of manners prevailed, and he was rude both in speech and behaviour. Both he and his wife were very fond of their young niece, but while good Queen Adelaide was on affectionate terms with the Duchess of Kent, King William made no secret of his dislike to his heiress's mother, and his desire that she should never become Regent.
When all the royal party were dining together, he expressed this hope in such unmeasured and insulting language as reduced the two elder ladies to dismayed silence, and the younger one to tears. Eighteen is the age fixed for the majority of sovereigns. The Princess's birthday had come, and she had been presented, but she still wished to continue her studies with the Dean of Chester, and her mark still stands in the memoirs of Mrs Hutchinson, which she was reading with him.
William IV. died in the night, and at five in the morning the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr Howley), the Marquess of Conyngham (Lord Chamberlain), and Sir Henry Halford, the royal physician, drove up to Kensington Palace, and had some difficulty in making themselves heard by the sleeping household. In a few minutes the young Queen came in her dressing-gown, with a white shawl thrown round her, her hair hanging down, and slippers on her bare feet. At the words "Your Majesty" she held out her hand to be kissed. Tears stood in her eyes, but she was perfectly dignified and composed. By nine o'clock she was ready for her first Privy Council, where she sat at the head of the table to receive the homage of the Ministers, of whom Viscount Melbourne was Premier, of the Duke of Wellington, then Commander-in-Chief, and of the royal Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex. She was collected throughout, only when these two old uncles bent the knee before her a deep blush tinged her face and neck.
Afterwards she went to St. James's Palace to show herself at the window while proclamation of her accession was made by the heralds ; but there were no great acclamations, and she was observed to look pale. Loyalty had been a good deal trifled away by the two latter kings, and she had to win it back again.
Her good sense and judgment were very striking. In all the questions that arose respecting her attendants and expenses, she took a line of her own, which had evidently been thought out carefully. Hitherto a most submissive daughter, she saw that, as Queen, she must permit no influence to lead her. This was at first a great disappointment to the Duchess of Kent, but the daughter's tenderness, affection, and filial deference never failed, and gradually the terms on which they stood were perfectly satisfactory, the Duchess living in her own apartments, except in the evening, at meals, and when they drove out together, and never meddling in matters of State.
The great object of the young Queen was that the debts that her father had left should be paid, and for this she avoided all unnecessary expense or display. She also did all in her power for the friends of her childhood, making her tutor, as soon as was possible, a Bishop, taking his eldest daughter into her household, and giving the Baroness Lehzen an appointment about her person.
The next great ceremony at which she appeared was the opening of her first Parliament, going in the old-fashioned State-coach, drawn by the equally old-fashioned cream-coloured horses, bred in Hanover.
Many years after, Napoleon III., who was then passing through London as an unknown personage, said that no sight had ever more impressed him than that of the youthful maiden on the throne, reading her speech in the sweet, silvery, clear voice, so simple, yet so majestic.
THE young Queen found in power a Whig Ministry headed by Viscount Melbourne, a man of great courtesy and gentleness, whom she always regarded with gratitude for the kind and clear manner in which he initiated her into the routine of business.
She took up her abode for the chief part of the year in Buckingham Palace, using beautiful Windsor Castle for her country home, and with her mother always by her side. Every one was eager to see their young Sovereign, and very kindly did she gratify them, always bearing in mind the saying of old Louis XVIII., that the politeness of royalty is punctuality. The custom was that the royal family should parade on Sunday afternoons on the broad terrace at Windsor, and the public be admitted to see them, and eagerly did they avail themselves of the opportunity; but this is one of the many things that have been put an end to by the greater facility and cheapness of travelling, since such crowds would have thronged by train to enjoy the spectacle as to destroy all comfort even for themselves, and cause confusion.
The same cause has prevented the great triennial festival of Eton-Montem, when all the boys paraded at Salt Hill, some in costume, some in red coats, some in blue, to collect contributions for the University expenses of the captain of the college boys. Hither came Queen Victoria, and it was then that in the confusion of boys and carriages one little fellow was being pushed down in the throng, and would have been under the wheel if she had not stretched out a hand, which he grasped so as to be able to recover his feet. She said something about being glad, but he was too much bewildered to utter anything before she had passed on. He was Coleridge Patteson, the future Missionary-bishop of the Melanesian Isles.
Here is a description of a ball at Buckingham Palace in the May of the same year, from Mr. Charles Greville's memoirs :
"The Queen's manner and bearing perfect. She danced first with Prince George (footnote: The Duke of Cambridge), then, young Esterhazy, then Lord Fitzalan. Before supper, and after dancing, she sat on a sofa, somewhat elevated, in the drawing-room, looking at the waltzing; she did not waltz herself. Her mother sat on one side of her, and the Princess Augusta on the other, then the Duchesses of Gloucester and Cambridge and the Princess of Cambridge, her household with their wands standing all round, her manners exceedingly graceful, and blended with dignity and cordiality, a simplicity and good humour when she talks to people which are mightily captivating. When supper was announced she moved from her seat, all her officers going before her, she first alone, and the royal family following, her exceeding youth strikingly contrasting with their mature age, but she did it well."
Later he says, "It is the remarkable union of naivete, kindness, nature-good nature, with propriety and dignity, which make her so admirable and so endearing to those about her, as she certainly is. I have been repeatedly told that they are all warmly attached to her, but albeit all feel the impossibility of for a moment losing sight of the respect which they owe her. She never ceases to be a queen, and is always the most charming, cheerful, and obliging, unaffected queen in the world."
The Coronation was fixed for the 28th of June 1838. It was decided that instead of the banquet in Westminster Hall, which would gratify only a few, there should be a grand procession in State equipages, including all the foreign ambassadors, by a route two or three miles long, from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, so that as many persons as possible might behold part of the pageant. Of the procession the great musical composer Felix Mendelssohn writes, "At a quarter-past twelve the procession began to arrive at Westminster Abbey, and by an hour later the whole had been absorbed in the Cathedral. I need not describe the procession in full, but will mention a few details. So, for instance, it was fine to see the good feeling of a whole nation break out in cheers when Marshal Soult appeared (footnote: He had been the Commander of the French in Spain against the Duke of Wellington.). Nothing more brilliant could be seen than all the beautiful horses with their rich harness, the carriages and grooms covered with gold embroideries, and the splendidly dressed people inside. All this too was encircled by the venerable gray buildings and the crowds of common people under the dull sky, which was only now and then pierced by sunbeams; at first indeed it rained. But when the golden fairy-like carriage, supported by Tritons with their tridents, and surmounted by the great crown of England, drove up, and the graceful girl was seen bowing right and left when at that instant the mass of people was completely hidden by their waving handkerchiefs and raised hats, while one roar of cheering almost drowned the pealing of the bells, the blare of the trumpets, and thundering of the guns, one had to pinch oneself to make sure it was not all a dream out of the Arabian Nights. Then fell a sudden silence, the silence of a church, after the Queen had entered the Cathedral. I mixed among the crowd, walked up to the door of the Abbey, and peered into the solemn obscurity; but my involuntary emotion was dispelled by a sense of the ludicrous, as I looked closely at their dressed-up modern cinque-centi halberdiers (the beef-eaters), whose cheeks suggest beef and whose noses tell tales of whisky and claret."
It is said that half a million of persons came up from the country for a chance of the sight of the procession, though, of course, only a limited number could be accommodated in Westminster Abbey. Even those whose office or rank gave them a place had to be admitted at 7 A.M., after waiting an hour in the cloisters in wet and wind; but the sun came out, making it "Queen's weather," and flashing on the diamonds of the tiers of peeresses, so that their rainbow-sparkling reflections played wonderfully on the arches of that most beautiful of all clerestories.
At ten o'clock the sound of cannon announced that the Queen had entered her carriage, and by and by she appeared in a royal robe of crimson velvet, furred with ermine and bordered with gold, the collar of the Order of the Carter round her neck, and a small circlet of gold round her head. Three swords were borne before her, the emblems of justice, of defence, and the blunted Curtana the sword of mercy, betokening that the Sovereign alone can pardon a convicted criminal. Her train was borne by the eight fairest girls to be found among the daughters of the dukes and marquesses, all in cloth of silver, with roses in their hair. An eye-witness says, "The Queen came in as gay as a lark, and looking like a girl on her birthday. However, this only lasted till she reached the middle of the cross of the Abbey, at the foot of the throne. On her rising from her knees before the faldstool after her private devotions, the Archbishop of Canterbury turned her round to each of the four corners of the Abbey, saying, in a voice so clear that it was heard in the inmost recesses, 'Sirs, I here present unto you the undoubted Queen of this realm. Will ye all swear to do her homage?' Each time he said it there were shouts of 'Long live Queen Victoria !' and the sounding of trumpets and the waving of banners, which made the poor little Queen turn first very red and then very pale. Most of the ladies cried, and I felt I should not forget it as long as I lived. The Queen recovered herself after this, and went through all the rest as if she had often been crowned before, but seemed much impressed by the service, and a most beautiful one it is."
The service was drawn up by St. Dunstan about the year 979 and, with a very few modifications, has been used ever since. The Communion Service is its foundation. An ingot of gold was offered by Her Majesty, and, after a brief sermon by the Bishop of London, the Archbishop administered the solemn oath to guard and do justice to her people, to observe the laws, and defend the Church.
The anointing followed, no empty ceremony, but the outward sign of the Holy Spirit of rule and authority. Four Knights of the Garter, in their blue velvet mantles, held a canopy of cloth of gold over the Sovereign's head, while the Dean of Westminster, taking the golden ampulla from the altar, poured into the spoon some of the oil, with which the Archbishop traced the cross on her head and hands, pronouncing the words, "Be thou anointed with holy oil, as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed," while the choir chanted the anthem of the anointing of Solomon. Then he gave her his solemn benediction. She looked like a child receiving a father's blessing as she knelt, and all the bishops around joined their voices in one solemn Amen. The Primate then placed her on the throne, or rather St. Edward's chair, so named from Edward the Confessor. Beneath the seat lies a rough stone, called in Erse the Lia Fail, or Stone of Destiny. Tradition declares that it once was Jacob's pillow at Bethel, whence it was brought to Cashel, where the kings of Munster sat on it to be crowned. In 513 King Fergus, having conquered part of Scotland, carried it thither, and Scottish kings took their seat on it till 1296, when Edward I., thinking he had annexed Scotland, brought it to Westminster, and placed it where it has ever since remained. Here the Queen received the ring betrothing her to her people, the orb of empire, a small globe surmounted by a cross, and the sceptre of rule. There, as the Queen sat, the Archbishop placed the crown of England on her head, and at the same moment the peers and peeresses simultaneously put on their coronets, the bishops their mitres, the heralds their caps, the trumpets sounded, the drums beat, the cannon outside fired, the Tower guns answered, and mighty cheers within and without rent the air. The Archbishop then presented the Bible to Her Majesty, and again led her to the throne, after which he was the first to do homage, followed by all the lords spiritual (the other bishops) and the lords temporal, in regular order, according to their rank. Each removed his coronet, touched the crown on the Queen's head, and spoke thus: "I do become your liege-man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and love I will bear unto you, to live and die against all manner of folks. So help me God."
Among the barons came Lord Rolle, who many years before had received the Queen's grandfather, George III., in his house in Devonshire, and whose pride and display on the occasion had been ridiculed in a witty poem called "The Rolliad." He was now past eighty, though still full of energy; and as he tried to climb the steps of the throne his foot caught in his robes and he fell, the young Queen above moving forward to try to help him. This natural warm impulse drew forth ecstatic shouts; and when the brave old man was raised and insisted on still paying his homage, he was led forward, and she rose so as to save him effort, while there were renewed cheers. Foreigners were said to fancy his prostration was the tenure by which he held his barony.
The last created baron having sworn allegiance, the Queen showed where her own homage was due by removing her crown while she received the Holy Communion. Then, the last blessing having been uttered, with the crown on her head, the sceptre in one hand and the orb in the other, the crowned Majesty of England left the Abbey, bowing once to the old Lord Rolle in congratulation, as she saw him safe in his place. The whole gorgeous array swept after her.
A little bit behind the scenes must also be given from Mr. Greville. "Lord John Thynne, who officiated for the Dean of Westminster, told me that nobody knew what was to be done except the Archbishop and himself (who had rehearsed), Lord Willoughby (who is experienced in these matters), and the Duke of Wellington, and consequently there was a continual difficulty and embarrassment, and the Queen never knew what she was to do next. They made her leave her chair and enter into St. Edward's Chapel before the prayers were concluded, much to the discomfiture of the Archbishop. She said to John Thynne, 'Pray tell me what I am to do, for they don't know.' And at the end, when the orb was put into her hand, she said, 'What am I to do with it?' 'Your Majesty is to carry it, if you please, in your hand.' 'Am I?' she said; 'it is very heavy.' The ruby ring was made for her little finger instead of the fourth, on which the Rubric prescribes that it should be put. When the Archbishop was to put it on she extended the former, but he said it must be put on the latter. She said it was too small, and she could not get it on. He said it was right to put it there, and as he insisted she yielded, but had first to take off her other rings, and then this was forced on; but it hurt her very much, and as soon as the ceremony was over she was obliged to bathe her finger in iced water in order to get it off."
THE painful pressure of the coronation ring was perhaps a token that cares and troubles were ready for the young head that wore the crown. At home there were the men who called themselves Chartists, because they called for a charter of equality; and as usual there were difficulties about Ireland, its champion being Daniel O'Connell. In all this hitherto Lord Melbourne had been the Queen's great counsellor. Her life at Windsor was thus :-She rose at a little after eight, breakfasted in her private rooms, then admitted her ministers, and spent every morning on business, reading all the despatches, and entering into every matter laid before her, ending with an hour or two with Lord Melbourne. After luncheon she rode out with her suite, Lord Melbourne on one side, an equerry on the other, generally very fast. On coming in she amused herself with music and singing or other pursuits until dinner, which was called at half-past seven, but she seldom appeared till after eight, when she came down with the Duchess of Kent. When the ladies came to the drawing-room she stood, moving about from one to the other, talking a little to each, and also speaking to the gentlemen when they came in from the dining-room, and a whist table was made up for the Duchess of Kent; and Her Majesty and all the rest sat about a great round table and made what conversation was possible, and, as Mr. Greville said, it was uphill work. However, the first great change that impended was by no means welcomed. The ministry were so nearly outvoted that they resigned, and a new question arose. Sir Robert Peel, the Conservative leader, could not but recollect the last female reign, when the influence of the Duchess of Marlborough, and afterwards of Lady Masham, had been paramount, and it was yet to be proved of what different mould Queen Victoria was from Queen Anne. He insisted that, on the change of ministry, the ladies of the household should also be changed, and to this the Queen would not submit. She was much attached to her ladies. She wrote, "They wanted to deprive me of my ladies, and, I suppose, they would deprive me next of my dressers and my housemaids, but I will show them that I am Queen of England."
It was altogether a misunderstanding, for Sir Robert Peel really wished for only a very few changes, and chiefly desired to establish the principle, while the Queen resisted with the vehemence of her warm heart and her twenty years. The matter ended by Lord Melbourne's return to office, and for a time in a dislike on the Queen's part to Peel, and a resentment against her among the Conservative party-both of which sentiments happily soon gave way.
If the discontent and displeasure thus excited made the youthful Queen doubt the wisdom of her resistance, she must have looked forward all the more to having a manly judgment to assist her in her perplexities.
The youth whom the family had already selected for her husband was just reaching man's estate. He was the second son of her mother's eldest brother, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. The next brother to the Duke, and, in right of ability and force of character, the head of the family, was Leopold, the widowed husband of our lamented Princess Charlotte, and by election the King of the Belgians, for whom his prudence secured much peace and prosperity.
The young Albert had been born at Rosenau on the 26th of August 1819, so that he was three months junior to the Queen. He had been wisely and carefully educated, with a strong sense of religious duty and of responsibility. In 1836 his father had brought him and his elder brother to England in order that the Duchess of Kent might judge of him, and that, if possible, the two young people might form an attachment to one another.
The experiment was successful, but no more then passed, and the Prince was sent to study at the University of Bonn, and to travel in Italy. He became both well informed and accomplished to no ordinary degree, with considerable knowledge both of art and music; and his character was perfectly blameless, through all the surroundings of German student life, and in spite of high spirits which found vent in some of the practical jokes to which Germans are addicted. He was somewhat shy and retiring, and there were always few with whom he could unbend, but those who were admitted to know him familiarly loved and admired him extremely. His personal beauty, too, was great. His figure was tall and manly, and the classic regularity of his features was like an ancient gem, his complexion clear and pale, lighted up by bright blue eyes, and a very sweet though rare smile. As Disraeli long after said, "he had been most carefully trained, and not over-educated for his intellect."
Such was the young man who, at twenty, was invited with his brother in the October of 1839 to make a visit at Windsor, every one but himself thoroughly knowing why. However, in the case of a sovereign, the gentleman cannot take the initiative, and it may well be believed that the Queen said the most nervous thing she had ever had to do was the making her proposal. It was done! and King Leopold wrote that he could say, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace," while the Queen made her formal announcement to the Privy Council.
The country watched a little anxiously. The antecedents of consorts to British Queens regnant had not been encouraging. Philip of Spain had been a hateful tyrant, Henry of Darnley mischievous and wretched in life and death, George of Denmark a mere nonentity, only remembered for his habit of saying Est il possible; and this German prince was young and untried, so that his possible influence was regarded with a certain jealousy. In fact justice was never completely done to him by the country in his lifetime. It was only after his death that England acknowledged what manner of man he had been.
Still an enthusiastic welcome was not lacking when he arrived as a bridegroom on the 6th of February 1840. The marriage took place on the 10th in the Chapel Royal at St. James's, and sounds of cannon announced to London when the ring was placed on the Queen's finger.
The pair proceeded to Windsor, where they were received by an ecstatic throng of Eton boys in white gloves and white favours. They only remained there three days, and then returned to Buckingham Palace. Lady Lyttelton thus describes the royal bride: "Her look of confidence and comfort at the Prince as they walked away as man and wife was very pleasing to see. I understand she is in extremely high spirits, since. Such a new thing for her to dare to he unguarded in conversing with anybody, and with her frank and fearless nature the restraints she has hitherto been under, from one reason or another, must have been most painful."
AMONG the special trials of royalty may be reckoned that of being the observed of all observers, and therefore a mark for gossip and misrepresentation not always intentionally malevolent, but arising from the peculiar satisfaction people feel in spreading unpleasant reports about those in high station.
All through the girlhood of the Princess Victoria it was said that her ankles were weak, and it was only when she was seen freely standing and walking that this foolish idea was dissipated. Her husband could not escape the murmurs of evil tongues, and for a long time all that was thought to proceed from him-even an alteration in soldiers' caps-was looked on with suspicion and dislike. The course of conduct he proposed to himself; and consistently maintained, was liable to be misunderstood. With talents, abilities, and force of character, such as might have made him visibly a leader of men, he deliberately effaced himself and abstained from courting popularity. He did the work, made the suggestions, moved the wheels, but in the background, leaving the Queen always the prominent part, and the full honour of whatever was done. And at the same time in the full prime of youth and flush of spirits, scarcely yet twenty-one years old, he gave up time and amusement to devote himself to his wife, and to toil in services for the State for which he expected to reap no credit. That in personal intercourse he was regarded as stiff, cold, and proud arose (as was found in after years) from his determination to form no associations which might by any possibility be turned to purposes of intrigue or party spirit, or unfairly bias his own judgment. Such a life of resolute, high-principled unselfishness in the full glare of a court is almost unexampled; and it had the reward of the Queen's perfect affection and confidence, the true relations of husband and wife being preserved in full perfection-without ever disturbing those of sovereign and consort.
Another trial of royalty is that conspicuous personages attract the notice of the insane or semi-insane, and, in the June following the marriage, the first of these crazed attacks on the Queen's life was made. As she was driving with the Prince in a pony carriage up Constitution Hill some one in the crowd fired a pistol at her. The Queen started up, but was pulled back by Prince Albert, and a second pistol was fired, happily without effect, before the wretch was secured. As a newspaper poet wrote at the time
|"She turned not with a woman's fear|
|To sheltering palace wall;|
|Her guards were in her subjects' hearts-|
|The hope, the star of all.|
|Was this a soul unfit to reign?|
|Was this, the bright young bride,|
|A girl, irresolute and weak- A mock to England's pride?|
|No, if to that high soul be joined|
|Fair face and feeble arm,|
|It doth but add, to thinking minds,|
|A glory and a charm."|
The unhappy man proved to be a youth named Edward Oxford, who had been a pot-boy. The only reason he had to give was, "I thought I might as well shoot at her as at any one else." There was sufficient ground for deciding that he was insane, and he was placed in a lunatic asylum for life. When he heard of later attempts on the Queen, he observed that if he himself had been hanged others would have abstained.
Till her marriage the Queen had never been happy except in London, and had found the country dull. Prince Albert's varied tastes for landscape-gardening, farming, improvements of the breeds of horses and cattle, made the sojourn at Windsor delightful to her, and drawing and music were further pursued together. The Prince gave several hours each day to studying with Mr. Selwyn, a distinguished barrister, on the constitution and laws of England, and read Hallam's Constitutional History of England with the Queen.
On the 2 1st of November was born at Buckingham Palace the Queen's first child, Victoria, Princess-Royal It was only a few days later that a boy named Jones was found hidden under a sofa in the outer room. The day before the christening, on the 10th of February, the Queen's hand, ever so ready to help, had been the one to help Prince Albert to climb the bank of the sheet of water in the grounds of Buckingham Palace when the ice had given way with him.
The Prince of Wales was born on the 9th of November of the ensuing year, 1841, and was christened, with the King of Prussia for his godfather, on the 25th of January in St. George's Chapel. As a specimen of the flying reports, it was said that the Queen looked cross, and she was indeed very anxious about their little daughter, who was suffering from teething, though, except for this, it appears from private letters and journals that nobody could have been more joyous or better contented than the happy young mother. The service ended with the "Hallelujah Chorus," by Prince Albert's special desire. He said an anthem would send everybody away criticising the music, whereas, with the "Hallelujah Chorus" they would go with hearts full of praise.
Afterwards there was a grand installation of the King of Prussia as Knight of the Garter, and a splendid banquet in St. George's Hall.
The court had become much brighter and more lively, and the Prince had persuaded his royal wife to give up her late hours, and indeed she soon found that only by early rising could she make time to see much of her children.
Shortly after Samuel Wilberforce, Archdeacon of Surrey, son of the great anti-slavery champion, speaks of having been taken by the Prince to see "the young Duke of Cornwall, and a very fine boy he is" (the eldest sons of our monarchs are born Dukes of Cornwall and created Princes of Wales).
Archdeacon Wilberforce was at that time one of the Prince's chaplains. The great beauty of his sermons and the remarkable fascination of his manners rendered him at that time always welcome at Windsor. He was wont in after life to say that the Prince was the ablest man with whom he ever conversed.
Two years later, in 1845, he was made Bishop of Oxford, which involves being Chaplain to the Order of the Garter, and later he became Almoner, so as to have the distribution on Maundy-Thursday of royal gifts and silver pennies to persons equalling in number the Sovereign's age.
THE Victorian reign has been an era of great change, often brought about by inventions, whose importance was scarcely understood at the moment of their discovery. It is impossible here to dwell on them in detail, but they had, for the most part, dated from an earlier period. The power of steam in working machinery had been discovered in the last century, and its application to the loom and the forge had already enabled the coal districts of England to become the great workshop of the world.
The work of women and children was needed in the factories, and multitudes flocked to Manchester, Bradford, and the cotton-weaving districts. Factory labour unrestricted was fast becoming a cruel system of oppression, and it was the life-long toil of the generous-hearted Earl of Shaftesbury to obtain protection by the laws for those who could not protect themselves from the exactions of trade. Steam had also been applied to locomotion, first by water, then by land, and during the earlier years of Queen Victoria a mighty system of railways was fast branching forth over Great Britain and the Continent, making an infinite difference in the facility of communication and transport.
This rendered possible the great invention of Rowland Hill, a commercial schoolmaster, who was the first to devise the pre-payment of every letter by a penny stamp, bringing down the cost of correspondence so that the number of letters might more than supply the difference of payment upon each. The amount was first reduced to fourpence, then emblematic envelopes were supplied which turned out more grotesque than useful; but in 1840 the “Queen’s head” stamp was introduced, and the postal system began which has gradually extended throughout the whole civilised world.
Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister who succeeded Lord Melbourne when in 1841 the Whigs went out of office and the Conservatives came in, belonged to a family whose wealth and eminence had been gained in the early days of manufactories. His grandfather had been known as Parsley Peel, from a favourite pattern for calico prints suggested to his daughter Nancy by a parsley leaf.
On the change of ministry the question of the ladies of the bedchamber was solved by the voluntary resignation of those more closely connected with politics. Mr. C. Greville (clerk of the council) speaks in the highest terms of the grace and dignity with which the Queen went through a change so painful to her as parting with Lord Melbourne, to whom she had trusted entirely for four years, together with his colleagues. Her whole conduct showed her morally, as well as by station, the greatest lady in the land, and Sir Robert Peel only wished to show her all consideration. The parting advice that Lord Melbourne left for him was no small testimony to her good Sense. “Whenever he does anything,” said the retiring minister, “or has anything to propose, let him explain to her clearly his reasons. The Queen is not conceited; she is aware there are many things she cannot understand, and she likes to have them explained to her elementarily, not at length and in detail, but shortly and clearly.”
And now another calico printer, Richard Cobden, was working in the direction of fresh changes. The most urgent question of the day was on the Corn Law. Was a duty on imported corn to be maintained for the sake of giving what was termed “protection” to the agriculturists? Was it to the true advantage of the country that bread should be as cheap as possible, or that the price should be kept up by the duty on foreign importations, so that the home farmer should be able to grow corn and pay his taxes without too much loss? There were the further questions whether Great Britain were able to feed her whole population; and again, if her farmers could not hold out against foreign competition, and the nation became dependent on supplies from without, what might be the result in case of a war or other disaster cutting these off?
Meantime the price of bread depended on the harvest, and sometimes rose so high that there was considerable distress, which was most felt by the manufacturing population. Each party viewed the other as short-sighted and likely to ruin the country, and long ago the poet Moore had written a humorous dialogue between Corn and Cotton ending with
“Squire Corn would be down before long.”
Several attempts had been made to adjust the difference by a sliding scale of duty, by which the impost on foreign corn was lowered in proportion as a failure in the crops might enhance the price of wheat at home; but there was a strong desire to do away with all such duties among persons unconnected with land, and this was brought to a head by Cobden’s organisation of an anti-corn law league.
No one had benefited more by the works of the giant steam than royalty itself. Formerly most sovereigns revolved in as narrow a circle as chess kings, since the expense of moving with a large suite was excessive, accommodation was hard to find, and hospitality was a heavy tax even on grandees. Queen Elizabeth had indeed made progresses—but, as it was said, partly for the sake of destroying superfluous wealth in her nobles; and in France a visit of Louis XIV. had caused the suicide of the chief cook of the Prince of Condé in despair at the delay of the sea fish for the banquet. George III. had never gone farther than Devonshire, and a visit from one monarch to another was regarded as an extraordinary event. Queen Victoria, however, was able to favour her principal subjects with visits, without inconveniencing them more than was amply compensated by the honour and gratification, and great was the enjoyment of both Queen and Prince of the historical interest of Woburn Abbey and Hatfield House, and of Sir Robert Peel’s noted collection of pictures at Drayton Manor. The country people thronged to see the Sovereign, and throngs of farmers on horseback escorted them, sometimes almost smothering them with dust. In 1842 the first visit was made to Scotland, and intensely enjoyed. King Leopold had always been a frequent visitor. His second wife was very much beloved by the Queen for her noble truthful nature. “Louise is perfect,” she wrote, “so excellent, so full of every kind and high feeling. Albert is the only equal to her in unselfishness.”
This charming lady was the daughter of the King of the French, Louis Philippe, who, during his exile in the days of the great French Revolution, had been an intimate friend of the Duke of Kent. Moreover his daughter-in-law, the recently-widowed Duchess of Orleans, was a cousin on the mother’s side of Prince Albert. In the August of 1843, the first trip of the royal steam yacht, Victoria and Albert, carried the personages whose name she bore to visit Louis Philippe and his family at the Château d’Eu, near Tréport. In spite of the recent sorrow that had fallen on them by the fatal accident to the Duke of Orleans, it was a very happy time. The other sons and daughters of the French King were young and bright, and Queen Amélie was a tender motherly person, and there was all the ease and enjoyment of a large and lively family, a great novelty to one who had grown up in comparative solitude. The French soldiery and peasants at hand showed an enthusiasm for their young guest, and both sovereigns augured the extinction of the long instinctive hatred of English and French. Here is a pretty and touching scene recorded in the royal journal, when the young mother showed the elder, so recently bereaved of her eldest born, the portrait of her little ones, “Puss and the boy.” She said to us so dearly, so kindly, “God bless them, and may they never grieve you.” I then expressed a wish that they might become like her children, and she said in one thing she hoped they might, viz. “in their attachment to their parents! But they bring grief too !“ In saying this she looked down, her eyes filled with tears, and she added, “After all, as God wills.”
Immediately after there was a voyage to Belgium, where the great old historical towns were visited. One sentence of Prince Albert’s letter about his uncle’s children has a melancholy interest, “Little Charlotte is the prettiest child you ever saw."
This summer of 1842 had seen another strange attempt on the Queen’s life, one by a youth named Francis. Miss Liddell, one of her maids of honour, writes: “On the 29th May I was in-waiting at Buckingham Palace, and had attended divine service on Sunday at the Chapel Royal with the Queen and Prince Albert. As we were driving back from church there was a momentary delay in the Birdcage Walk, but the ladies-in-waiting who were in the second carriage knew not the cause of the stoppage. However we noticed that the Prince looked annoyed, and went away with the equerries. The Queen, who was quite calm and collected, walked up the grand staircase to her apartments, talking to her ladies, and spoke of the sermon.” The following day Miss Liddell and Miss Paget waited in vain for a summons to drive with the Queen, and they saw her drive off in an open carriage with Prince Albert. By and by they heard of the attempt of Francis, and in the evening, while the Queen was talking over the matter with Sir Robert Peel, she turned to Miss Liddell and said, “I dare say, Georgy, you were surprised at not driving with me this afternoon, but the fact was that as we returned from church yesterday, a man presented a pistol at the carriage window, which flashed in the pan. We were so taken by surprise that he had time to escape, so I knew what was hanging over me, and was determined to expose no life but my own.”
Well may she be called “our lion heart.”
Sir Robert Peel, a man of highly sensitive feeling, was much overcome by the danger she incurred.
Before Francis had been tried, another attempt was made by a hunchback named Bean. The terrible sentence of death seemed rather to fascinate than deter these maniacs, so a bill was passed making flogging and imprisonment the penalty, and this had the desired effect.
One great undertaking which the Prince was carrying out was the arrangement of the domestic affairs of the palace. Each change of ministry changed the great officers of the crown, and as they were charged with the ordinary household duties, and did not live in the palace, there was nobody to take care that anything was done. The lord steward found the fuel, the lord chamberlain had the fires lighted; the lord chamberlain provided lamps, the lord steward the oil; and as the outside of the palace was the charge of the Woods and Forest, and the inside that of the lord chamberlain, the cleaning or mending of a window was a delicate matter, taking months to accomplish, and most of the servants were practically under no control at all. ‘The waste of course was excessive, and Prince Albert did his best for reforms, but could not succeed till 1843, when the whole economy of the palaces was made over to a single head, the master of the household; and from that time it became possible to exercise that noble form of frugality which, cutting off foolish waste and needless personal indulgence, leaves full room for needful splendour and royal munificence and charity.
It may be worth noticing here that all the special fashions connected with Her Majesty are of the quiet, simple, and sensible order, and that while she was still a young woman, whose dress gave the general style, there were far fewer absurdities of taste than at almost any other period, and no wonder she had much influence, for her kindness to her young maids of honour was great. It must have been pretty to see the great Duke chivalrously kiss the tiny hand of the little Princess-Royal, as she gazed hard at the old eagle face, and her mother bade her remember him.We have a charming picture of domestic life in the letters of the great musical composer Mendelssohn, who was in England in the summer of 1842—observing that with foreigners, on a visit, the Prince could allow himself far more freedom than on principle he permitted himself with English subjects. “Buckingham Palace is,” as Grahl says, “the one really pleasant comfortable English house in which one feels à son aise. Of course I do know a few others, but yet on the whole I agree with him. Joking apart, Prince Albert had asked me to go to him on Saturday at two o’clock, that I might try his organ before I left England. I found him alone, and as we were talking away the Queen came in, also alone, in a simple morning dress. She said she was obliged to leave for Claremont in an hour, and then suddenly interrupting herself, exclaimed, ‘But, goodness! what a confusion!’ For the wind had littered the whole room, and even the pedals of the organ (which, by the way made a very pretty feature of the room), with leaves of music from a large portfolio that lay open. As she spoke she knelt down and began picking up the music, Prince Albert helped, and I too was not idle. Then Prince Albert proceeded to explain the stops to me, and she said that she would meanwhile put things straight. I begged that the Prince would first play me something, that I might boast about it in Germany, and he played a chorale, by heart, with the pedals so charmingly and clearly and correctly that it would have done credit to any professional; and the Queen, having finished her work, came and sat by him and listened, and looked pleased. Then it was my turn, and I began my chorus from ‘St. Paul,’ ‘How lovely are the messengers.’ Before I had got to the end of the first verse they had both joined in the chorus, and all the time Prince Albert managed the stops so cleverly for me ... and all by heart, that I was really quite enchanted. Then the young Prince of Gotha came in, and there was more chatting, and the Queen asked if I had written any new songs, and said she was very fond of singing my published ones. ‘You should sing one to him,’ said Prince Albert; and after a little begging she said she would try the ‘Frühlingslied’ in B flat, if it is still here, she added, ‘for all my music is packed for Claremont.’ Prince Albert went to look for it, but came back saying it was already packed. ‘But one might perhaps unpack it,’ said I. ‘We must send for Lady ,‘ she said (I did not catch the name). So the bell was rung, and the servants were sent after it, but without success, and at last the Queen went herself, and whilst she was gone Prince Albert said to me, ‘She begs you will accept this present as a remembrance,’ and gave me a case with a beautiful ring, on which is engraved V.R. 1842. Then the Queen came back and said, ‘Lady — is gone and has taken all my things with her. It really is most annoying.’”
However Mendelssohn begged that he might not be the sufferer, and after some consultation Prince Albert said, “she will sing you something of Glück’s.” Then they proceeded to the Queen’s sitting-room, where there stood by the piano a mighty rocking-horse and two great bird-cages. The walls were decorated with pictures; beautifully-bound books lay on the tables, and music on the piano. Mendelssohn found among the music a set of songs of his own, and, first sending away the parrot, “for he will scream louder than I can sing,” the Queen sang,
“Schöner und Schöner schmückt sie”
quite charmingly, in strict time and tune, but with one slight error. Mendelssohn confessed that the song was not his, but his sister Fanny’s; and she then, with some doubt, undertook to try to sing his “Pilger Spruch, Lass dich nur,” which she did quite faultlessly and with charming feeling and expression. I thought to myself, one must not pay too many compliments on such an occasion, so I merely thanked her a great many times, on which she said, “Oh! if only I had not been so frightened, generally I have such a long breath.” Then I praised her heartily and with the best conscience in the world, for just that part, with the long C at the close, she had done so well, and taking the three notes next to it all in the same breath, as one seldom hears it done, and therefore it amused me doubly that she herself should have begun about it. Afterwards the Prince sang “Es ist ein Schnitter,” and Mendelssohn improvised till it was time for Her Majesty to start for Claremont.Lady Lyttelton speaks of the remarkable beauty of the Prince’s performance on the organ, and the manner in which he poured out with it his inmost soul. “Nobody but the orgsan knows what is in him, except indeed by the look of his eyes sometimes.”
A third child was added to the royal nursery on the 25th of April 1843, Alice Maud Mary, destined to be the great darling of the family, and the first to be taken from them.
THE leader of the House of Lords and the chief military authority in England was the great Duke of Wellington, the Duke, as he was universally called. He had lived down the unpopularity he had incurred during the Reform agitation, and was regarded by the Queen with almost a daughter's affection and respect, and by the nation with pride and reverence, as not only the greatest living general but as the very soul of honour and uprightness. As Scott had written :--
|"Not a peoples' just acclaim,|
|Not the full hail of Europe's fame,|
|Thy prince's smiles, thy state's decree,|
|The ducal rank, the gartered knee ;|
|Not these such pure delight afford|
|As that, when hanging up thy sword,|
|Well may'st thou think, "This honest steel|
|Was ever drawn for public weal,|
|And, such was rightful heaven's decree,|
|Ne'er sheathed unless with victory."|
Since the American war had ended in 1782 no disaster had befallen the British arms ; and thus it was all the greater shock when, early in 1842, the overland mail from India brought the tidings of the utter destruction of an English force in the Khyber Pass, in the mountains of Afghanistan, only one man, Dr. Brydon, an army surgeon, having escaped, half dead, drooping over the neck of a worn-out pony, to tell the tale in the frontier town of Jellalabad.
Afghanistan, a country of mountains and fierce hill tribes, lying between the Russian and the British dominions, had been taken into alliance by England. The cause of one of the pretenders to the chieftainship had been espoused, and an English and Sepoy force of about 5000 had been placed in the city of Cabul, ostensibly for his protection, but also as a check upon possible advances on the part of Russia.
S Discontents arose, and in the November of 1841 Sir Alexander Burnes, with his brother and another officer, was murdered in his own house at Cabul, and a fortnight later the envoy, Sir William Macnaghten, was also treacherously slain during a conference with Akbar Khan, the chief of the insurgents. The country was rising, the season prevented any aid being sent from India, and the general in command was feeble and aged. Retreat was decided upon, and it was hoped was secured by treaty ; but Akbar neither could nor would restrain the ferocious hill tribes. The mere journey in the month of January through the passes of rugged mountains covered with snow would have been bad enough for an army encumbered with numerous women, children, and camp followers. Snow and frost had caused the death of many even before, ten miles from Cabul, the troops reached the terrible Rhybar Pass, between walls of rock and precipice, five miles long, and all the heights above alive with merciless enemies. An officer returned to remonstrate with Akbar, who undertook to put an end to these attacks if some of the principal officers were surrendered to him as hostages. This was done, but without any effect except depriving the mass of unfortunate beings of their leaders. They struggled on, utterly disorganised, shot down at every step. Lady Sale, whose husband was commandant at Jellalabad, and the widowed Lady Macnaghten were surrendered to Akbar ; and afterwards General Elphinstone and Colonel Shelton, whose regiment, the 44th, was utterly destroyed. The savages placed barriers across the narrower parts of the pass, and cut down or made prisoners all who were thus penned in, till only about forty succeeded in escaping from this valley of the shadow of death ; and cold, privation, and exhaustion, as well as the pursuers, made an end of all these, so that Dr. Brydon alone reached Jellalabad on the 13th of January.
The enemy surrounded that city, and it was in the utmost danger till, on the 7th of April, Sir Robert Sale made a gallant sally, set the besiegers' camp on fire, and forced them to retreat. In the summer Generals Nott and Pollock brought a force of English and Sepoys, and after a course of successes liberated the captives, all but General Elphinstone, who had died. Lady Macnaghten had actually been forced to grind corn between two stones, and the English troops were only just in time to save her from being carried off to the Usbeck Tartars. The victory was complete, but it was decided to give up the country, being a very difficult one to guard, and the fortresses, including Jellalabad, were dismantled, and the troops returned to India, saddened by the sight of the bones which strewed the fatal pass. It was supposed to be gratifying to the national feelings of the Sepoys that the sandal wood gates of the Temple of Somnauth, carried off 8oo years before, were brought back in order to be restored.
The Queen had deeply grieved over these disasters, but only two years had passed before a fresh war broke out with the Sikhs, a gallant warrior tribe, with whom Sir Harry Smith and Sir Hugh Gough fought three battles at Moodkee, Ferozeshah, and Aliwal, very hardly contested, and therefore the more glorious ; but in the first the brave Sir Robert Sale ended his noble career. By the treaty that followed the Sikh country south of the Indus, called the Punjaub, or land of five rivers, was placed under British protection, though governed by native princes.
In the meantime the Duke was induced by Prince Albert to use his influence in putting down the barbarous and unchristian code of honour which made it even in a civilian an exertion of great moral courage to decline a challenge to a duel, and such a refusal by a soldier caused such a stigma as was equivalent to the loss of his commission. It used to be a wonder in popular literature to find a tale without a duel, and Christian heroes were made to decline them at a terrible cost. In point of fact, sensible men could almost always avoid the necessity, but the heat of politics, the rivalries of love, and the quarrels of dissipation still led to them, and even the Duke himself had fought. The law was powerless, but an amendment in the Articles of War declared it suitable to the character of honourable men to apologise or to accept an apology in case of offence given or received, and thus England set an example, unfortunately not yet followed elsewhere, of preventing this savage practice. Both Queen and Prince were deeply religious, with a dread of exclusiveness, and with an earnest desire to promote religion and morality in the nation.
The Queen had grieved over the death of her first Premier, Lord Melbourne. "A most kind and disinterested friend, and most deeply attached to me," were her own words. He had died in 1842, after a long decay, often cheered by kind letters and messages from his royal mistress.
ON the 18th of October 1865 Viscount Palmerston died, after a very brief illness. He was within two days of his 81st birthday, had been in office almost all his life, and was Premier to the day of his death. His career was well summed up by Harriet Martineau: "By his levity he made many things easy, by his industry he accomplished a vast amount of business, by his gay spirits he made a sort of holiday of the grave course of the nation. But he has done nothing to fit his country, or his party, or even his nearest associates, for a wise conduct of national affairs in the time to come. One reason of the general sorrow for his death is the general misgiving as to what is to come next."
Lord John Russell (advanced to an earldom) became Premier, but on bringing in a bill for the extension of the franchise the Ministry were defeated, and went out of office in June 1867. The Conservatives came in with the Earl of Derby and Mr. Benjamin Disraeli, a remarkable person, son of a noted literary man of Jewish extraction, and himself hitherto known as a writer of brilliant political novels, and a maker of powerful speeches in Parliament. Under their auspices, a bill was passed giving household suffrage in borough towns, and soon after, on the resignation of Lord Derby, Disraeli became Prime Minister.
A war was in hand with Abyssinia, a strange country, which, though Christian by profession, had, from isolation, relapsed into barbarism and savagery. The king, Theodore, had for a time shown himself willing to receive European emissaries and to have endeavours made for the advancement of his people, but he suddenly took offence and threw the English Consul, Mr. Cameron, with his suite, some missionaries, and various other Europeans, into prison, about thirty-five in all. An expedition was fitted out for their deliverance, and placed under General Sir Robert Napier. Gaining access by the Red Sea, he advanced on Magdala, the capital, and defeated the Abyssinians on the adjacent heights. On this Theodore released the captives, but refused submission, on which the city was attacked, and in the midst of the assault the king was slain, perishing, it is believed, by his own hands. As on inquiry he was found to be a usurper, the right heir was set up in his place, and his young son was brought to England and presented to the Queen in the Isle of Wight. He was sent to India for education, the climate of England being too cold for him, but he died after a few years.
Prince Alfred, who had been created Duke of Edinburgh, had from the first done his full duty as a naval officer. In the early part of the year 1868 his ship, the Galatea, was in the harbour at Sydney. He had gone ashore for a picnic, when he was suddenly shot in the back by a miscreant named O'Ferral. The present writer was at a large public assembly at Oxford when the intelligence was telegraphed to the Earl of Carnarvon (Colonial Secretary), and the thrill of horror and indignation that passed at once through all that great body was a sensation never to be forgotten. Mercifully the bullet proved to have missed any vital part, and the prince's recovery was rapid. He interceded for the assassin, but in vain; the man was at once tried and executed. He declared that he had acted on a sudden impulse and had no accomplices, but there was every reason to believe that he was connected with the Fenians. This was the title assumed by the disaffected in Ireland in commemoration of the legendary heroes of whom Fingal was supposed to have been the chief, and who were the subject of Ossian's poems.
To repress Irish demands and turbulence was the policy of one party, to endeavour to content them that of the other, and in the end of 1868 the Conservative Ministry was overthrown, and the Liberals brought in, when their first measure was to disestablish the Irish Church, on the plea that a large proportion of the nation were Romanists, and that a source of irritation and jealousy would be removed ; but the expectation of peace, content, and tranquillity was not fulfilled.
Princess Alice was going through a time of much trial, war having broken out between Austria and Prussia. It was as painful as a civil war, and Prince Louis himself was forced to take the field, and when she could ill spare him; but she was vigorously making every preparation for the wounded, begging for old linen. She writes to her mother: "I come to ask if you could send me some old linen for rags. In your numerous households it is collected twice a year and sent to hospitals. Could I beg for some this time? It would be such a blessing for the poor Germans, and here they are not so rich."
The two little girls, Princesses Victoria and Elizabeth, or Ella as she was called, were with the Queen in England, and a third was added to their number on the 11th of July 1866, happily during an interval while the father was able to be at Darmstadt, though he had to leave it three days later to take part in the battle of Königgrätz. "You can't think what war in one's own country in a little one like this is," the princess writes ; "the want is fearful!" Before the little one was a month old, on August 4th, the brave and tender-hearted princess was driving to the hospitals to inquire after the wounded who were brought from the fields of battle. "As soon as I am better I will go to them myself, but the close and crowded wards turn one easily faint." On the 17th she actually went, and let a poor man who had undergone an operation hold her hand, while he cried like a child, saying "It burns so ! "
By this time her husband had rejoined her, and peace being soon after concluded the babe received the Greek word for peace, Irene, as her baptismal name.
What the Princess Alice had seen during this war led her to form a "Ladies' Union" for training women of all ranks in nursing, and especially in giving assistance to the comforts of the troops in time of war. Nursing was an especial talent of the princess herself. She had that great perfection of joining to the stateliness of her rank the sweet, tender homeliness of a cottage mother. She nursed her own children, made their dresses, and when her favourite English nurse was ill she washed and dressed the baby herself; nor did she fail to carry the like tender ministrations into the houses of the poor at Darmstadt. What she did was at the expense of her own time and exertion, for her means were not large, considering her rank. She had to practice careful economy, not being able to afford a country house for her children in the summer, and not being able often to enjoy her greatest pleasure, a visit to England, on account of the heavy expense.
In March 1867 there was much anxiety for the Princess of Wales, who suffered from a severe rheumatic fever, and was long in shaking off the effects, finally going to the baths at Weimar.
The Princess Helena had been married on the 5th of July 1866 to Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, the Queen being this time able to retain her daughter in her own country. The Princesses Louise and Beatrice were now the companions in the Highland expeditions. In one the Queen notes: "A little boy tried to give me a nosegay which was fixed on a pole, and in trying to catch it Colonel Ponsonby let it fall. The little boy screamed 'Stop! Stop!' and ran in such an agony of disappointment that I stopped the carriage and took it from him, to his mother's great delight."
BRIEFLY must be recorded the birth of a second prince, Alfred, now Duke of Edinburgh, at Windsor, on the 6th of August 1844, and likewise a visit from that splendid potentate, the Czar Nicolas I., one of those men whose stern resolution and activity make them great forces in the world. He so lived in his uniform that he said that out of it he felt as if he had lost his skin, and he always slept on a leathern sack stuffed with hay! A return visit was also paid by Louis Philippe, and the Queen much enjoyed a tour in the Prince's native country, visiting all his haunts. She was enthusiastically welcomed everywhere, and at Cologne, outside Farina's factory, the ground was sprinkled with the famous scent named from that city.
Alas! that same summer of 1845 a different scent began to be known, which has since become only too familiar- namely, the peculiar smell which announces the potato blight, beginning in the haulm. Potatoes had within the last half century become to a great degree the sheet-anchor of the English peasantry. In every cottage that had a garden the daily dinner was on potatoes, the bit of bacon being the Sunday treat; and in Ireland these were almost the exclusive food. The light peaty soil suited them, and the slight intermittent labour they required agreed with the habits of the people. The Englishman ate a good deal of bread, the Irishman scarcely anything but "praties" and oatmeal.
The summer of 1845 was wet, close, and thundery, causing the wheat harvest to he unusually bad; while the blight spread among the potatoes with the virulence of a new disease, and made such devastation that it even seemed as if the species might be extinct.
A famine was imminent in both countries. The only thing to be done was to admit corn free of the duty, but the question was whether this should be only during the actual scarcity, or whether the corn laws should be entirely repealed. Sir Robert Peel, feeling that he was held to be hound to support protection, resigned office; but the Whigs failing to form a Cabinet, he resumed his post as Premier, and carried through the total repeal of the corn laws, though at the expense of being regarded by the Protectionists as a traitor to their cause. They combined with the Whigs to defeat him at the next session of Parliament, and in June 1846 Lord John Russell came into office.
It had been impossible to avert severe distress even in England. Every potato not infected was saved for seed, and the poor suffered severely, but were spared from actual starvation, and gradually learnt to depend on a greater variety of food. Their condition, however, was wealth compared to that of the Irish, who lost all they had to depend upon.
Vigorous efforts were made for their relief. The hearts of the English bled for them, and, unprosperous as the harvest had been, all classes vied with one another in subscribing to a fund for their relief. The Queen headed the list with thousands; all according to their degree gave, often with self-denials, trifling but real. Young men at the University stinted themselves of desserts, little children gave up their pudding. A Government grant of a million was made for reclaiming waste lands, so as to give employment and payment, and half that sum for buying seed. The Queen herself had only secondary flour used in her kitchen. Every day nearly two millions of rations were distributed to the starving people, chiefly of rice and Indian-corn meal, by the Government, besides great exertions made by private charity. As many as possible were persuaded to emigrate and supplied with all necessaries for the voyage; but in spite of all that could be done the misery was appalling.
The country is such as to be thinly inhabited, and the people at all times were content to live in the merest hovels, with no comforts, no resources, on wild moorland tracts, where, when their crop failed and their pig and cow were gone, there was nothing to fall back on. The fever that goes with hunger set in, and hundreds died either from that or sheer starvation. Lonely cabins on the mountain side were found with the last survivor lying dead, and whole families were utterly swept away. The relief was difficult to organise. Some resented having to work, many were discontented with the meal and rice, and though there were many most noble and touching cases of patience and self-devotion among the sufferers, it was no wonder that more than one good clergyman, landlord, and lady absolutely died of the sorrow, exertion, and self-denial they underwent in the endeavour to relieve the misery around. To individuals there was warm gratitude, to England as a nation none, hut rather a strange idea that all was her fault. The distress of the two years from '45 to '47 was no doubt frightful. Whole districts in the south were depopulated by hunger, disease, or emigration, and it is said that the Irish character has never entirely recovered the old rollicking fun and gaiety that used to mark it.
Princess Helena had been born in 1846, and the quiet days of autumn set in. The careful economy exercised by Prince Albert had enabled the Queen to purchase the estate of Osborne in the Isle of Wight, the great and especial delight of both. "The fine air," the Prince writes, "will be of service to Victoria and the children, and I, partly builder, partly farmer, partly gardener, expect to be a good deal upon my legs and in the open air." "It is a relief," wrote the Queen, "to be away from all the bitterness people create for themselves in London." The new buildings were first occupied on the 15th of September 1846. After dinner the Queen's health was drunk as a house-warming, and in the course of the day Prince Albert repeated in German some lines from a hymn of Luther's,
"God bless our going out,
Our coming in, bless too;
Our daily bread, and all
We do or do not do.
Bless when we peaceful die,
As heirs beyond the sky."
THE Queen was greatly pained by an action on the part of France which she could not approve, and which threatened to overthrow the friendship between her and Louis Philippe, namely, the marriage of his son, the Duke of Montpensier, to the Infanta Louisa, sister to the Queen regnant of Spain, at the same time as Queen Isabella herself wedded her cousin, a Spanish prince.
It had been distinctly understood that the Infanta should not marry a French prince while she remained heiress-presumptive to the crown, since any close union between the thrones of France and Spain had always been viewed with dread and jealousy by the European powers. Queen Victoria felt the matter so strongly that she wrote with great force to the Queen of the Belgians, explaining her feelings not only as a sovereign but as a woman who felt for the young Queen of Spain in having a dull, inferior, and uncongenial husband forced upon her. The Belgian Queen was addressed because her father had already made her the medium of his very lame defence. It had been a case of vaulting ambition overreaching itself. The manifestation of desire for family aggrandisement rendered the French nation distrustful of "the citizen king," at a time when agitation seemed in the air. "Europe," as Prince Albert had written, "seemed in a ticklish condition." The election of Pio IX., a Pope who began with liberal tendencies, had excited the patriots of Italy into a wild ferment. France was in a state of suppressed agitation, and on the 20th of February 1848 the attempt of Government to prevent a dangerous political banquet led to an insurrection in Paris. Louis Philippe quailed in the moment of peril, resigned his crown to his young grandson, the Count of Paris, and fled. The Duchess of Orleans bravely tried to present her son to the people in the Chamber of Deputies, but she was howled down and safely conveyed away and out of Paris. Queen Victoria forgot all the offences of Louis Philippe, and felt only anxiety and sorrow. "We have had," she wrote, "since the 25th enough for a whole lifetime anxiety, sorrow, excitement in short, I feel as if we had jumped over thirty years' experience at once. The whole face of Europe is changed, and I feel as if in a dream ! "
In small detachments, travelling in disguise, the members of the Orleans family arrived in England, and were welcomed with the warmest kindness and pity. Many were quite young children. The king and queen came as Mr. and Mrs. William Smith in a steamer from Havre to New-haven on the 2d of March, and were offered a home in the old palace of Claremont, belonging to King Leopold, for life, and there the scattered party began to reunite. "You know," wrote our Queen to Baron Stockmar, "my love for the family. You know how I longed to get on better terms with them again. . . . Little did I dream that this would be the way we should meet again, and see each other in the most friendly way. That the Duchess of Montpensier, about whom we have been quarrelling for the last year and a half, should be here as a fugitive, and dressed in the clothes I sent her, and should come to thank me for my kindness, is a reverse of fortune which no novelist could devise. "
Germany was likewise in an uproar, and the Queen felt much anxiety for her friends there. In London there was a feeble attempt at a riot, only serving to show the loyalty of the great mass of the citizens. Scotland had some more serious risings, but these were put down. However, the Chartists were stimulated to draw up a monster petition, with which they announced their intention of marching from Kennington Common to the House of Parliament, evidently designing to begin a revolution such as had overthrown Government and brought in anarchy and bloodshed in many a city of the Continent. The day was to be the 10th of April. The Queen's courage and confidence in her people never failed; but it was thought wiser that she should leave London, and she went down to Osborne, when the Princess Louise was three weeks old, whilst the Duke of Wellington undertook to protect the country, keeping troops in reserve, ready to be brought forward on any need arising, but not showing a man of them except the ordinary sentries on guard in public places. The preservation of order was entrusted to the voluntary services of 170,000 men of all ranks, from duke to artizan, who presented themselves to be sworn in as special constables, among them Prince Louis Napoleon, afterwards Napoleon III. They cheered the great captain heartily as he quietly went to his accustomed place at the Horse Guards. The huge procession, which was announced as likely to be half a million, proved to be of scarcely 8000. Not a blow was struck, not a shot was fired, not a window broken, the procession broke up when the police refused to let them pass the bridges, and the petition was conveyed in three cabs to the Houses of Parliament. The signatures were only a fifth part of the number expected, and of these many names were merely copied out of directories, with the addition of those of the Queen and Duke of Wellington, and such fabrications as No Cheese, Pugnose, Flatnose, etc.
Never was there a greater failure or a fuller demonstration of loyalty, and the royal pair at Osborne had thankful, grateful hearts.
Irish troubles were, however, mending. The strange contradictory character of the Celtic natives, tender yet cruel, faithful yet treacherous, pious yet false, eager yet indolent, patient yet passionate, utterly disregarding all life except their own, has rendered them almost impossible to he governed either by themselves or any one else, ever since the first English settlement and the grant by the Pope to Henry II. in 1170. The difficulty had only been increased by the importation of Norman, English, and Scottish settlers at different periods, for the lapse of centuries has not prevented them from being viewed by the populace as usurpers and aliens; and savage ferocity on the Irish side awoke fierce hatred and retribution on theirs, all being complicated by the neglect of the Church at the Reformation to provide instruction for the natives, which gave the Roman Catholic Church the opportunity of winning them to a vehement devotion to her cause, so that religious opposition embittered all the rest.
Ever since the beginning of the century, when the Union took place, there had been a course of concession and an endeavour to conciliate, but whatever was granted only emboldened the Irish to demand more, especially the repeal of the Union. Fanatic gentlemen, among whom was specially notable Mr Smith O'Brien, took up the cause, and furious denunciations were made in Irish papers, together with suggestions how to overpower the soldiery in a popular rising. At Limerick a meeting was to be held at the Garrfield Club, but the party of the late Daniel O'Connell were at enmity with that of Smith O'Brien, and set upon them. Smith O'Brien was too severely handled to attend the meeting, and the others were attacked at the banquet. As Thackeray's ballad declared-
" They smashed the lovely windies,
|Hung with muslin from the Indies,|
Pursuing of their shindys
Upon Shannon shore."
The police objects of hatred and contumely to those would-be patriots were called upon for their defence and dispersed the mob, and the meeting took place with windows boarded up; but a fortnight later Smith O'Brien and his chief confederates were arrested for seditious language, but only one, Mitchel, was convicted, as the Irish Juries would not agree on their verdict in the other cases. He was transported to the Bermuda Islands.
The Irish raged, and the Chartists uttered threats; the Government was said to be murdering the Irish, whereupon Punch put forth a cartoon showing the manner of it, i.e. the viceroy, Lord Clarendon, being aimed at by a horde of ruffians. In July Smith O'Brien actually tried to organise an insurrection, and got together about a thousand men. These were encountered by about a hundred and fifty armed police at Widow M'Cormick's house, at the Bog of Boulagh, Ballingarry. There was a little firing, and the rebels broke up and dispersed, Mr O'Brien creeping away on all fours through the cabbage garden. After wandering about the country for some days he was arrested, and brought to trial for high treason with his chief confederates. Sentence of death was pronounced on them, but was commuted to transportation for life, and the absurdity of the cabbage-garden adventure had a very wholesome effect upon the country.
While other governments were falling, and war and terror raged all over Europe, the machinations of the disaffected in Britain were overthrown with scarce the shedding of a drop of blood.
Victoria: Images Of Her World
A comprehensive collection (over 230) of images of Queen Victoria, her extensive family, and her court.
Queen Victoria's biography
from the History of the Kings and Queens of England
And now that we are in the Elizabethan half-century ...
Queen Elizabeth II : Official Website for the Golden Jubilee 2002
6 February 2002 was the 50th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's accession to the Throne
6 February 2012 was the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's accession to the Throne - her Diamond Jubilee.
Click here for the Official Diamond Jubilee Website